Analysis: For Tyler Reddick, improvement begins with restarts, details

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Second-year Cup driver Tyler Reddick ranks as of one of NASCAR’s top seven long-run passers this season on non-drafting ovals and appears one improvement away from a breakout. But that area of vulnerability — restarts — has nagged him in marquee moments.

Reddick’s charge from 13th place to second across Homestead’s final 60-lap green-flag run, in which his rim-riding around the 1.5-mile track made for a pleasing aesthetic, deserves all the plaudits. He isn’t willing to hear them, though; a poor restart to open the run saw him lose three positions within the first two laps, a crucial error that he believes kept him from contending for the race win.

“It was a great run through the field on that last green-flag run, but that restart was my worst restart of the day,” Reddick said. “I lost like four or five spots and that was the difference in what that outcome was. It’s just those little things.”

Of the little things affecting his progress, restarts have been the most frequent. Across all attempts in the first half of the season, he retained position 46 percent of the time — ranked 24th among full-time drivers. Furthermore, the ability to choose his restart position isn’t providing assistance. His retention rate is a hair below 43 percent on choose-rule tracks, ranked 28th overall.

A poor restart two weeks ago at Nashville Superspeedway nullified a heady gambit for stage points. The No. 8 team eschewed pitting in advance of a six-lap run towards the finish of the second stage. While Austin Dillon and Chase Briscoe turned similar strategies into tangible points (nine and eight, respectively), Reddick fell from second (the outside of the first row, a slot with a 72% chance of retention) to 17th, failing to collect a single point for the stage:

Restarts and mental mistakes like the ones for which he took blame after Nashville are indeed standing in the way of a driver whose stat profile is one with a budding trajectory. In his rookie season, he ranked as the 11th-most efficient passer on non-drafting ovals and eighth on 550-horsepower tracks specifically. But similar to his effort this season at Homestead, he most often attempted to overcome deficits created in part due to a restart.

Discounting these positive green-flag runs, though, is a mistake. Effectively, the more positions he gains beyond what’s statistically expected of him, the better he and his team finish, a strength evident in seven of his 10 best races to date in which his adjusted pass efficiency — the percentage of pass encounters resulting in a driver’s favor — was recorded:

After clinching the regular-season championship for the Xfinity Series in 2019, Richard Childress compared Reddick to Cale Yarborough. Such lofty, perhaps hyperbolic praise brings with it specific expectations, but Reddick’s ability to positively influence results in a team sport — even with his shortcomings — is plenty of reason to get excited about the iterations of Reddick that’ve yet to come.

His development has been a slow burn since his first partial season in the Xfinity Series until now, but the incomplete version we currently see is already a viable competitor on all relevant track types. Of his nine top-10 finishes this year, he’s recorded at least one apiece on a half-mile track, a 1-mile track, a 1.5-mile track, a road course and, with his ninth-place result last Sunday at Pocono, a 2-mile track. From Talladega through last weekend’s twin bill at Pocono, a 10-race span including five different track types, he amassed the sixth-most points (314) among all Cup Series drivers.

This well-roundedness gives him a cautious optimism that a legitimate chance at a first career victory might soon present itself.

“You may have a day where you’re not that great and you just don’t make a mistake, everyone else does and you’ll find yourself winning,” Reddick said. “I don’t know if it’s going to come that way. There are a lot of opportunities where, right now, I think our cars are good enough that if I run a good race, the pit crew does their part — which they have been — I think we could surprise ourselves and it could happen at a few different types of racetracks.”

Still, the fine details nag. His Production in Equal Equipment Rating — consideration of a driver’s race result that handicaps team and equipment strength in an attempt to isolate his contribution — ranks 16th, but it’s a PEER that skews towards races with average to low caution volumes. He ranks 12th from races with two cautions or less per 100 miles, while ranking 22nd in races with higher volumes, that signify an increased number of restarts.

To his credit, Reddick has buckled down on improvement in a way he previously never did, part of the coterie of Chevrolet drivers under Josh Wise’s tutelage. The Cup Series talent and equipment pool is deep, a marked difference from the Xfinity Series where Reddick was a two-time champion.

“I guess I never really gave the attention to detail that I do now running in the Cup Series as when I was running the Xfinity Series,” Reddick said of the disparity that tends to confound newcomers. “It is eye-opening, the amount of resources that are available if you really take the time to look through it all, like pit road, restarts, you could go through a lot of things … you don’t realize how much the last tenth or two-tenths mean in the grand scheme of things throughout your day. It could mean the difference between running 10th and running fifth.

“Those are the things that add up to winning races. The more that I can get better at all these other things will give us more opportunities when our car is really good that one day or really good one weekend to be able to go out there and get the job done.”

Jesse Iwuji Motorsports seeks $4.125 million in lawsuit against sponsor

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Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, a NASCAR Xfinity Series team, has filed a $4.125-million lawsuit against Equity Prime Mortgage, one of the team’s sponsors.

In the lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the team alleges that EPM committed a breach of contract. JIM alleges that EPM agreed to pay the team $2.25 million for sponsorship in the 2022 season and $3.75 million for 2023.

The lawsuit attempts to recoup what Jesse Iwuji Motorsports calls two missed payments totaling $375,000 from 2022 and the $3.75 million for 2023. The filing of the lawsuit was first reported by TobyChristie.com.

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The team scored one top-10 finish in 30 Xfinity starts in 2022. The team’s cars were driven by Kyle Weatherman and Iwuji. Weatherman had a best finish of eighth; Iwuji’s best run was an 11th.

The team was founded by Iwuji, former National Football League player Emmitt Smith and a group of investors.

The lawsuit claims that an EPM executive informed the team in September 2022 that EPM had been “margin called” and was dealing with problems because of rising mortgage rates and that EPM could not make any more payments to Jesse Iwuji Motorsports .

According to the lawsuit, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports sent EPM a Notice of Intent to terminate the sponsorship agreement after the payment due Oct. 1 was missed. The suit claims EPM “took no action” after EPM offered 30 days to remedy the situation.

The suit also claims EPM “allegedly continued to take advantage of their status as a sponsor of the NASCAR Xfinity Series team, as EPM continued to make promotional posts on social media, which featured the company’s logo on the JIM race car.”

EPM is based in Atlanta.

Dr Diandra: The best driver of 2022

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NASCAR’s elimination playoff format means that the driver with the best statistics — arguably the “best driver of 2022” — doesn’t always win the championship.

Races unfinished

Drivers involved in a lot of crashes also failed to finish a lot of races. But not all accidents end drivers’ races. Comparing accidents and spins to DNF (did not finish) totals helps gauge how serious those incidents were.

Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were involved in the most accidents for a single driver with 15 caution-causing crashes each. The difference is that Chastain had only five DNFs (33.3%), while Stenhouse had nine (60.0%).

Ty Dillion tied Stenhouse for the most DNFs in the series with nine DNFs and 10 accidents.

Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie tied for third place with eight DNFs each. Reddick had 10 accidents, while Dillon and LaJoie were each involved in 11 crashes.

No driver avoided DNFs entirely. Among full-timers, Michael McDowell had the fewest DNFs in 2022 with two. Justin Haley and Ryan Blaney tied for second with three DNFs each.

In 2021, only Denny Hamlin finished every race running. This year he had five DNFs, with four in the first nine races.

This year’s 225 DNFs are up significantly from 179 in 2021. and the most DNFs since 2017. I’ll be watching in 2023 to see if the rise in DNFs continues, or if this was a one-time phenomenon due to the first year with a new car.

Wins

“Best driver” doesn’t necessarily mean most wins.

This year’s champion, Joey Logano, didn’t have the most wins. That’s not at all uncommon in NASCAR. With 19 different winners in 2022, no driver dominated the season the way Kyle Larson did in 2021 with 10 wins.

The winningest drivers in 2022 were: Chase Elliott (five wins) and Logano (four wins). Christopher Bell, Larson and Reddick tied for third with three wins each.

Top-five and top-10 finishes

While wins matter more than good finishes, the number of top-five and top-10 finishes show how close a driver got to taking home the checkered flag. Running up front means being there to take advantage of other drivers’ mistakes and misfortune.

In 2021, Larson had the most top-five finishes (20) and the most top-10 finishes (26). This year, good finishes were much more spread out.2022's best drivers in terms of top-five and top-ten finishes

Chastain deserves a special shoutout for having 13 more top-10 finishes than he earned in 2021.

Also deserving of a shoutout, but for different reasons: Hamlin had the same number of wins this year as last, but nine fewer top-five finishes. William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. also had nine fewer finishes in the top five.

Logging laps

While Truex didn’t make the championship race, he did tie Elliott for the most lead-lap finishes in the season with 29, or 80.6% of starts. Blaney, Byron and Kevin Harvick each had 28 lead-lap finishes.

Elliott led the most laps in 2022 with 857. He’s followed by Logano (784), Byron (746), Chastain (692) and Blaney (636).

I remain slightly wary of metrics that purport to measure quickness because so much of a car’s speed depends on where in the field it’s running. Lap traffic, or even being far back in the field, can slow fast cars. That’s especially true at short tracks.

For completeness, however, the next two tables show the drivers’ numbers of fastest laps and those with the best rank in green-flag speed according to NASCAR’s loop data.

Two tables showing the drivers with the most fastest laps and the highest rank in green-flag speedChampion Logano ranked 11th in fastest laps with 319, and eighth in overall green-flag speed with an average ranking of 9.281.

Best Finishes

The tables below show drivers’ rankings throughout the season for average finishes and average running position.

Two tables comparing 2022's best drivers in terms of average finish and average running position

Elliott ranks first in both average finish and running position. Chastain takes second for best average finish and fourth for best average running position, while Blaney is second for running position and fourth for finishing position.

Logano finished 2022 third in both metrics.

Passing

NASCAR defines a quality pass as a pass for position inside the top 15. Interpreting the meaning of the number of passes is a little tricky. A driver who runs up front a lot doesn’t make many quality passes because he doesn’t need to.

I focus instead on the percentage of quality passes: the fraction of all green-flag passes that qualify as quality passes. A higher percentage means that the driver is efficient: The passes mean something.

Elliott scores first in percentage of quality passes with 63.4%, just edging out Bell, who has 63.3% quality passes. Larson is third with 61.2%.

Who was the best driver in 2022?

I combined the metrics I think matter most for determining the best driver in the table below. I color-coded drivers who appear in the top five in more than one metric to make it easier to see patterns.

A table showing the top five in each of the metrics discussed in the hopes of identifying 2022's best driver.

This table confirms that the NASCAR playoffs format did a good job identifying the top four drivers in the series. Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Bell are well-represented in the top five in each metric.

The table also shows that Larson and Blaney contended strongly in 2022. With a slightly different distribution of luck, one (or both) might have found their way to the Championship Four.

Logano’s consistency is also evident, even though he doesn’t rank first in any of these metrics and fails to make the table in top-five finishes or quality passes. It’s not uncommon for the driver with the most wins not to win the championship. And this year has been anything but common.

But overall, it’s hard not to argue that Elliott had the statistically best year. He led the series in wins, laps led, average finish, average running position and percent quality passes. If his playoffs had been comparable to his regular season, he would have taken the trophy.

But they weren’t and he didn’t. That may have ended the 2022 season on a down note for the No. 9 team, but they can look forward to 2023 knowing they have a strong base on which to build.

While skill is reproducible, luck isn’t.

Kaz Grala, Connor Mosack join Sam Hunt Racing for 2023

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Kaz Grala is scheduled to run the full NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for Sam Hunt Racing in 2023.

Connor Mosack will drive a second Hunt car — No. 24 — in 20 races for the team. Grala will drive the No. 26 Toyota.

The new season will mark Grala’s first as a full-time Xfinity driver.

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“I’ve scratched and clawed for each opportunity over the past several seasons, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s made me appreciate this sport and its difficulty more than I ever could if things had been easy,” Grala said in a statement released by the team. “I feel like everything has finally come together at the perfect time in my life with the right team around me to start that next chapter in my career.”

Grala, 23, has scored five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 44 Xfinity starts. He has raced in all three NASCAR national series and won a Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2017.

Allen Hart will be Grala’s crew chief.

Mosack, who will begin his schedule at Phoenix Raceway March 11, was the CARS Tour rookie of the year in 2020. He drove in two Xfinity and two Truck races in 2022.

Kris Bowen will be Mosack’s crew chief. The team said it will announce other drivers for the 24 car later.

 

Ryan Truex to drive six races for JGR Xfinity team in 2023

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Ryan Truex is scheduled to run six Xfinity Series races in the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.

Truex ran five races for JGR in 2022, finishing in the top five three times. He ran third at Atlanta.

Truex also drove limited Xfinity schedules for JGR in 2011 and 2012.

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“We are looking forward to having Ryan back in our lineup in 2023 to run the No. 19,” said JGR vice president Steve DeSouza in a statement released by the team. “He has done well in the races he has run at JGR. His previous experience and driving ability will be assets as the No. 19 competes for an owner’s championship next year.”

JGR has not announced which races Truex will run or which drivers will be his teammates in the 19.

“I am thrilled to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 for a few races next season,” Truex said in a team statement. “It was fun to run well with this team this past year. I appreciate the opportunity to race for JGR again next year.”

Jason Ratcliff will be the team’s crew chief.

Truex, 30, has run 26 Cup, 84 Xfinity and 73 Camping World Truck Series races without a win.